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Creative Entrepreneurs

Building Sustainable Careers In The Creative Sector

Presentation given at the Conference on Developing and Fostering Talent, Bratislava, September 2016

Good morning I’d like to start by telling you a little bit about myself, my name is Ian Oliver and I am Head of Creative Entrepreneurship at the Centre for Creative Practices in Dublin.

My passion is to work with creatives, creative businesses and Development organisations, to build sustainable projects and careers in the creative sector.

And also to use Creativity as a major driver for regional and national economic growth.

Now I know that the notion of sustainability does not sit well with everyone, particularly with some members of the Creative and Cultural Sector.

But as Tony Robbins says,

“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus.”

We’ve all probably, at some time or other, wanted to be a rock star, we learnt to play guitar, sing, we’ve found a drummer and formed a band, but that doesn’t make us a rock star. To be a rock star it means we not only have to star at rock but also we have to commit to it as to our profession, to earn our living from it.

That sounds completely obvious to most, but is that really the case with everyone working in the creative sector?

Let me tell you, it wasn’t always that obvious to me. I have worked in the Creative sector for over 20 years as an entrepreneur, manager, freelancer, volunteer, some of which were paid and some unpaid.

In September 2009 my partner Monika and myself opened the Centre for Creative Practices with an ambition to run an independent, non-commercial arts centre that was sustainable. Now I have to say it did not work out the way we intended, but we learned a lot about sustainability, or rather the lack of it in the creative sector, along the way.

CFCP soon became known is the only arts organisation in Ireland dedicated to connecting, integrating and promoting migrant, experimental and emerging creatives among the local arts scene.

We were winners of the Arthur Guinness Fund in 2012, named in the Purpose Economy 100 for Europe in 2014, awarded the Multicultural Company of the Year and Shortlisted as Dublin’s Gallery of the Year both in 2011. We received financial support from the Arts Council of Ireland & Dublin City Council.

We ran on average 15 events per month, with a total of over 700 events, engaged with around 1,500 creatives and 16,000 audiences over the course of the space’s lifetime.

And it took us almost three years to dare to price our concert tickets at €10 and to increase our venue hire rent to an “extortionate” €120 per day.

Yes, we were afraid, afraid to realistically price our work, afraid people wouldn’t come, afraid that people couldn’t afford it.

Did we ask them? No, we just assumed it.

We worked in the creative sector and it was more about showing something than making a living from it, or so we thought.

Moreover, through our contact with over 1500 artists we realised that well over 90% of them suffered from the same conditions and false notions that we did, that we cannot expect our audiences or customers to pay realistic prices or to pay at all.

We were not alone then, most of the sector lacked the skills to run a successful creative business or build sustainable careers. Therefore our overriding mission became to acknowledge the fact that we all needed help, irrespective of where on the path we were.

Now CFCP is one of the European leaders in creative entrepreneurship training.  We provide physical creative entrepreneurship training in the form of a 3 ½ days dedicated and focused bootcamp and we are in the process of developing online training programmes. We provide 1-to-1 mentoring to individual creatives and creative businesses.  And have worked with over 1000 creatives and 250 creative organisations since 2013.

What we need is a new model, one that includes the ability of creatives to make a living wage.

But what do we need to do to get there?

as Tim Knight says

“Everyone and every organisation is perfectly designed to get the results they are getting.”

Based on a recent survey by the Arts Council of Ireland four factors are predominantly missing from the Creatives toolkit:

  • lack of financial skills
  • marketing services and attracting new clients
  • basic business administration skills
  • and finally the ability to raise investment or funding.

But is it really the just the lack of skills? I don’t think so, of course some basic knowledge needs to be provided or gained but the most important thing that needs to be changed is the mindset.

We need a mindset that shows us that:

  1. Being a creative means being entrepreneurial as both are very strongly focused on problem solving, innovation, sustainability and impact
  2. And that Money is not an evil but a fair exchange. An exchange, in whatever form, for professional skills and services.

So let’s give Creatives the opportunity, at the start of their careers, to put the building blocks in place.

What I AM talking about here is the entrepreneurial skills creatives need to provide fulfilling sustainable careers, as to be honest, the lack of any basic entrepreneurial education taught in art colleges and schools at present is appalling.

But to put these blocks in place something has to change and change is something we in the creative sector do not do well.

Although we hold up as some form of Demi gods those who have achieved commercial success, one thinks of the likes of U2, Bowie, Daniel Day-Lewis, Andy Warhol, Banksy, George Lucas etc when asked to reach those or similar heights ourselves most of us will reply that we feel as if we are giving away our creativity, our very soul, because treating our work like a business is almost considered a taboo!

There does seem to be a small shift in recent years, a number of national and International creative and educational organisations are trying to include into their professional development programmes topics like taxation, marketing, contracts and fundraising, but the problem is that there is no overriding structure. These are just diverse topics, one could say, taken randomly from any business book, disconnected from any notion of entrepreneurship, especially creative entrepreneurship.

What we need is a concentrated development programme, one that lifts the taboos both within and outside the sector.  A programme where creatives feel free to talk about problems and solutions, as the atmosphere in creative institutions seems to prohibit this type of thinking.

The other critical aspect for successful creative entrepreneurship training is that it needs to be provided by creatives for creatives.

As one of the questions from yesterday highlighted, the environmental situation we have, should help to determine the methodology we use to nurture the development of talent, and as such, the creative sector operates in its own unique eco-system, with its own structures and nuances, and has its own specific requirements.

We specifically know the eco-system, we understand their specific needs and understand the business tools needed.  We need to have providers who are rooted in the creative sector and meet the participants where they are.

We need to be able to define purpose, impact and value propositions for every creative business, be they freelancer or SME.

And we need to learn to look at this as part of our successful communications strategy, as opposed to selling our soul.

We must not compromise creativity, but enhance it.

However, the creative sector must be entrepreneurial enough because if it is capable of achieving the results described in a 2015 report by The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, UNESCO and EY which showed that the Cultural and Creative Industries generate revenues of US$2,250b, that’s more than the EU Governments spend annually on education, and provide 29.5 million jobs worldwide of which 7 million are in the EU. They also noted that Cultural production is young, inclusive and entrepreneurial.

On the other hand, the average income for an individual creative in Ireland from their creative work is less than €11,000 per year and in terms of the size of businesses, the creative sector is largely made up of self-employed individuals or micro businesses comprising of 1-3 employees. As only 12% of creative businesses have more than 10 employees, compared with 39% being self-employed.

Just to reiterate, at present we just we do not give creatives the entrepreneurial tools they need, so imagine what would happen if we did?

We are at the cusp of a new era for the creative sector, one where it is seen as a major economic driver.  Take for instance a recent speech given by The Irish Government’s Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, where she specifically mentions the creative industries as being 1 of the 5 major drivers to be used by the Irish Government towards economic sustainability and growth in rural Ireland, where they are looking to create 135,000 of targeted 200,000 new jobs by 2020.

But, “Creativity Cannot exist in a vacuum”

For too long the right for those in the Creative sector to make a living has been ignored.  Creatives need the skills and understanding to make a living wage.  However, the onus is not solely on the Creative themselves but on those who are the gatekeepers, the educators, the advisors, the mentors and the stakeholders.  We need to make change happen and we need change to happen now!

One of the main ways in which we can effect change is through Creative education.  Art Colleges, like any university, serve two functions:

– to act as both a store and repository of knowledge and skills

– and to teach people how to use those resources to prepare for their professional careers.

In the recently published novel “Submission” by Michel Huellebecq the main character, a Literature professor at the Sorbonne University, remarks about the value of the academic study of literature:  “The academic study of literature leads basically nowhere, as we all know, unless you happen to be an especially gifted student, in which case it prepares you for a career teaching the academic study of literature – it is, in other words, a rather farcical system that exists solely to replicate itself and yet manages to fail more than 95 per cent of time. [1]

While it’s not all doom and gloom, however, it would be difficult to fully deny that there is a certain accuracy in this harsh critique.

Applying Huellebecq’s lens to 3rd level Creative Education we find a very similar situation. In the “winner takes all” stakes of the Creative sector only a small percentage of graduates actually make a career with their artistic profession with the remainder facing a life full of struggle and frustrations.

[1] M. Huellebecq, Submission, 2015, Penguin Random House, p.10

Does it really need to be like this or is there a feasible solution to make the creative career possible?

We have in Europe amazing Fine Art, Music, Design, Film, Acting and similar Academies perfectly preparing their students to produce and perform work at the highest level. Unfortunately, many of their graduates end up having 3 jobs from which two are subsidising their vocation.

My question is whether it is fair and reasonable to expect creative academic institutions, who excel in educating these top creatives in their chosen fields, to be the right places to provide creative entrepreneurial education?

Especially when we combine the current attitude of universities and colleges towards creative entrepreneurship education and add to this the fact that Creative entrepreneurial education is a practical knowledge, mostly gained in an applied environment and developed further through real-world successes and failures, I don’t see this Creative Education eco-system as providing this applied knowledge.

Therefore for the moment, the better solution I would argue, is to leave the creative education institutions to focus on developing the creative talents of artists and creatives, and in parallel, to develop a network of entrepreneurial academies, incubators and accelerators, developing the talents of entrepreneurship for creative entrepreneurs.

Thank you

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Giving Creatives & Artists the Opportunity to Build Sustainable Careers

What I AM talking about here is the entrepreneurial skills creatives need to provide fulfilling sustainable careers, as to be honest, the lack of any basic entrepreneurial education taught in art colleges and schools at present is appalling.

Giving Creatives & Artists the Opportunity to Build Sustainable Careers

What I AM talking about here is the entrepreneurial skills creatives need to provide fulfilling sustainable careers, as to be honest, the lack of any basic entrepreneurial education taught in art colleges and schools at present is appalling.

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